Vaclav and Lena are the children of two Russian immigrant families living in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighborhood. Vaclav is clever, quick and eager to become American; Lena is anxious and shy. Vaclav learns magic tricks and performs shows in their neighborhood; Lena stands by as his assistant. She cherishes his boldness; he treasures her sweetness. They imagine a life together — and then, one day, Lena disappears. Through all the twists and turns of Vaclav's search for Lena, love is the most enduring theme.
Set in San Francisco toward the end of the "dot-com" craze, Carol Edgarian's family drama Three Stages of Amazement is both serious and entertaining. Lena Rusch is an appealing but harried mother of two whose surgeon husband has been trying, with middling success, to found his own medical device company. The novel deftly dramatizes questions about the essence of married life and throws in a mystery about Lena's origins for good measure. But there's no mystery as to how Edgarian keeps us going — deep insight into human behavior, coupled with the right language to describe it.
A novel about the splintered nature of family life and inheritance, If Sons, Then Heirs, is the latest novel by Philadelphia writer Lorene Cary, best known for her memoir Black Ice and her novel The Price of a Child. Set mainly in Philadelphia and South Carolina, the novel wrestles with the tension and love between generations, between country life and city life. It's an old American story, and Cary tells it with the authentic voices of a large cast of family characters.
Rose, Bean and Cordy were named after the Bard's well-known Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, respectively — which tells you something about their overzealous Shakespearean academic father. As he raises them, he continuously recites poetry as a form of parental advice. But the Shakespeare overkill in Brown's fictional family hints at deeper issues that the father and sisters must deal with when they learn that their mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
An offensive tackle for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, Michael Oher was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning feature film The Blind Side. His memoir, I Beat the Odds, was inspired by the letters from foster kids that he received after the film was made. They wanted to hear Oher's story in his own words, about how he became a successful athlete after growing up with a crack-addicted mother, and changing homes and schools until he found a loving adoptive family. "I wanted this book to be more than just a story about my early life," he writes. "I wanted it to be a guidebook for kids like me and the adults who want to help them."
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.